Genre: Horror and Romance

Horror starts on page 280 and Romance starts on page 286 of the Cypher System Rulebook (Red Cover Copyright 2019 Monte Cook Games). As of this post, there are no official supplements for the Romance Genre. Monte Cook Games has released Stay Alive by Sean K Reynolds for the Horror Genre, and there is an excellent horror supplement out on DriveThruRPG called The Umbral Earth by Dean M. Lewis our site contributor and Cypher Unlimited co-founder.

The reasons Horror and Romance are lumped together in this blog post are as follows:

  1. Both should have a Consent in Gaming checklist looked at/filled out (a free product from Monte Cook Games), or at least a discussion together as a gaming group before tackling these as a GM.
  2. They are less of a stand alone campaign by themselves but more of a flavoring or feeling added to other Genres to create something different or make it feel more realistic.
  3. You need to gauge the maturity level and willingness of your players and know your audience.

Horror: Horror is about creating tension through fear. Remember the rule of Less is More. If everything is terrifying, nothing is. You can ratchet the tension up only so far before it becomes mundane. Instead, try to give some normalcy, a brief respite before the fear returns. It will make the scare even more intense and realistic.

The importance of consent in this case is because you can explore some pretty dark topics at the table. However, there’s a large difference between good uncomfortable, or things that make us squirm during a great horror movie, and bad uncomfortable which can make a player feel unsafe or nauseated. Make sure you know where those boundaries lie with your players and don’t go beyond them. Being scared can be fun, but being sickened isn’t and it’s very rude.

Josh and I were lucky enough to catch a panel by Pelgrane Press called Horror Roleplaying Masterclass at GenCon 2020 Online via Twitch. In that panel, Kenneth Hite had probably one of the best examples I’ve heard of how to build tension in a Horror game. He compared it to a roller coaster. The climb, slowly working your way up. Tick – the guy running it looks like he is high as a kite and very young. Tick – is that rust on those poles, it looks pretty bad. Tick – is that actually wood, did they do a patch job on that with wood?… and it continues, each tick something new, something that ratchets the tension just a little higher, and then at the top, there is the hesitation, the sigh of relief that maybe, just maybe. Then you drop, the bottom falls out and you’re screaming down the ramp. That is what horror should be like.

The men at Cypher Unlimited also did a video on horror gaming and Stay Alive with Sean K Reynolds.

The other recommendation I have is get your players to care about the characters. Give them lives, hopes, dreams, make them feel real, and then, when it comes down to the wire. Make it hurt when something bad happens, either to their characters OR the people their characters find important (NPC’s). This is especially true if you’re normally a more gentle GM who doesn’t make consequences too bad for the characters.

Romance: I had a hard time with this one. To me romance and love aren’t something you DO they’re something you FEEL. Romance, flirtation, and all the things that make up the interactions can be misconstrued or taken out of context. There’s also occasionally having issues with people separating truth from fiction. Character’s affections from real life. Do NOT confuse Romance with Erotica however, there is a whole different set of systems out there for that.  However, I am going to cover Romance briefly. 

  1. Adding romance and emotions of that nature to a game takes careful consideration. It’s not something that can happen organically (except in very special circumstances), it needs to be planned. Not just “who”, but “when” and at least some of “how”.
  2. Trust is a major component, not just between players, but between players and GMs. It’s too easy to slip into an area that makes someone feel uncomfortable.
  3. GMs need to be prepared to step in, either to ‘cut’ the scene and shift focus to a different set of characters, or to make sure everyone is still comfortable. It is not unlike a director of a play at that point.
  4. GMs, if they’re providing the NPC love interest, need to be able to step in there too, and do a cut and shift focus to a different set of characters.

Romance is about interactions, good, bad and indifferent; developing bonds between the characters or the characters and the NPC. Romance doesn’t evolve in empty space but if you want a specific outcome it needs to be planned for. Pelgrane Press had an excellent information session during GenCon 2020 Online called Dramatic Interaction Masterclass that covered some of these ideas that you might find interesting.

  • Joann Walles

Update 8/6/2020: Added Dean M. Lewis’ Horror Supplement

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